Sky’s the limit — on the ground

The other day I was at JetBlue‘s new terminal at New York City’s JFK International Airport. And when I mean the other day, I mean most of the day. I was there about six hours. And either it’s a spectacular airport terminal or someone replaced the caffeine in my Red Bull with tranquilizers, but I had a great time. (Incidentally, note how effortlessly I just dropped in two product placements. I wasn’t paid for either, but that’s only because I am a journalist with ethics and a spine. Also, both companies said no when I asked them for money.)

Apparently, a plane had what the captain would refer to as a “spoiler malfunction” and so my flight was delayed. Spoilers are the hinged plates on the wings that help a plane slow or descend. I presume when one malfunctions, it’s like a spoiler in a book or a movie: We learn ahead of time how something is going to end and usually it isn’t very pretty.

In any case, I was in the airport a long time and the terminal is so pleasant that I didn’t mind. Usually when I’m forced to spend six hours at an airport, I find myself e-mailing or texting every person in my Blackberry address book (yes, that’s another unpaid product placement), half-heartedly reading whatever book I have in my attache while staring at the flight information boards, and seeing if I can eat enough fried food in a loud, dark sports bar to induce an angioplasty.

Just for the record, I should note that when I am maligning airport terminals, Burlington International Airport is exempt. I like our airport, especially the hardworking women and men with the Transportation Security Administration who scan our bags and have to spend way too much time with strange people’s shoes. (How was that, TSA? Are we good?) We also have a book section at our airport store with a huge selection of titles.

My experience at JFK was different from the time I have spent delayed at airports across the rest of the country. The JetBlue terminal is big and bright and everything is easy to find. It was, in my opinion, designed by people who were actually forced to hang around airports breathing jet fumes and eating pizza topped with Silly Putty instead of cheese. (Because I am suggesting that Silly Putty is not a tasty pizza topping, I did not ask Binny & Smith for a product placement fee.) Here are five things about the terminal that I would love to see become fixtures in airports everywhere.

<!–Saxotech Paragraph Count: 6
–>1. There are computer menus and counters scattered at the gates furthest from the food court and it is possible to order food and have it delivered to your gate. Some of the food even has lettuce in it.
2. There are shelves above each urinal in the men’s rooms. And above is key. Make no mistake, some men have better aim than others. Also, the men’s rooms had Xlerator hand dryers. I love the Xlerator: Sounds like a jet engine and actually works.

3. The bars are sleek, airy and cheerful. The food court has interesting restaurants.

4. The Cheeburger Cheeburger franchise tells you how many calories are in most of the items. (Don’t look if you are ordering some of the milkshakes.)

5. The Just Ask counters have people who are helpful and they have plenty of staff. Despite the delays, I never stood in line for more than five minutes.

Now, I’m not telling you this because I am expecting that JetBlue will comp me a ticket to St. Maarten or throw in an extra bag of chips when they see me on a flight — though they’re welcome to do both. But so often we rant about the indignities of air travel these days that I thought it worth noting when an airline does something right.

So, big props to JetBlue. As Cosmopolitan magazine founder Helen Gurley Brown used to say: Kudos!

(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on June 14, 2009.)

Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of nineteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Sleepwalker. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, The Guest Room, and The Double Bind.